WIHI: The Echo Effect of Project ECHO's Access to Specialty Care

Date: July 9, 2015
  • Sanjeev Arora, MD, FACP, FACG, Director, Project ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes), Department of Internal Medicine, UNM School of Medicine
  • Donald M. Berwick, MD, MPP, FRCP, President Emeritus and Senior Fellow, Institute for Healthcare Improvement
There’s telemedicine, and then there’s Project ECHO. Founder and director, Dr. Sanjeev Arora, makes the distinction so we don’t miss what’s groundbreaking about Project ECHO’s approach. While telemedicine focuses on bridging geographic divides that can separate patients from needed specialists, Project ECHO is on a mission to bridge divides within the provider community itself that prevent medical expertise from being shared and distributed more widely.
With Project ECHO, primary care doctors and others working in underserved, isolated, or small community settings use videoconferencing to advance their skills and ability to handle complex cases because of what they learn from specialists some distance away. The goal is both simple and profound: a “democratization of knowledge” so that patients anywhere can receive the best care from the doctor or health care practitioner they have easiest access to, not the one they don’t. 
What began in 2003 as a process for improving access to treatment for people in New Mexico suffering from Hepatitis C, now offers support and learning for 30 different diseases and conditions, impacting patients in some 22 states. A lot of observers believe Project ECHO’s approach to expanding access to specialty care is disruptive in the best sense. That’s why this WIHI took a good, hard look at what difference this effort is making to patients and providers alike.


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